We picked up a good piece of wisdom about God in our first reading from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom:
“God loves all things that are / and loathes nothing which God has made.”
When I was a lot younger than I am now – there was a popular button that we all thought was cool to wear which simply said: “God loves me because God does not make junk.”
St. John, when he writes his first of three letters is a bit more blunt: God is Love.
And so when we try to talk about or describe God we often do so by just quoting St. John: God is LOVE. That’s who we say God is – God is love not as a sideline or in a complimentary way – but in God’s very essence –
God’s very being — it’s who God is: God is love and consequently God loves all things that are / and loathes nothing which God has made.
But saying that – and believing that —are two very different things.
Most of us, if asked what the hardest thing to believe regarding our faith, would probably answers the incarnation: how can Jesus be both God and man at the same time? Or the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: still looks like bread and wine to me - how can it be the Body and Blood of Christ? Or possible Reconciliation: can’t I just confess my sins directly to God?
Yet - believing that God loves every single thing that God created – every rock, every star, every plant, every animal — and especially every person – I think can be one of the hardest things we will be asked to accept and embrace in our faith – it’s easy to say – but it isn’t so easy to believe – because then we have to have a profound respect and reverence for each and everything and each and everyone. . .
Much easier to believe that Jesus is both God and man – because that doesn’t impact our day to day to life as much as truly believing:
God loves all things that are / and loathes nothing which God has made.
Yet if we don’t believe this - and put it into practice by what we do every day – we might as well forget about believing everything else we are called to believe.
Because once we start saying that God loves some of us more than others – we have stopped allowing God to shape and guide our hearts – and have instead simply created a God we want – a God who is on OUR side, but not necessarily on the side of everyone else. THAT is not God who is love – it might be the god of ancient Greeks or Romans – but not certainly the God we are called to believe in.
And so belief in a God who loves all God has created is an essential, fundamental step of faith – the step right after accepting belief in God at all.
Once we believe in God we must do our best to have some idea of who God is, what God is like, and what God is NOT like. And for we Christians - for we who are disciples of Jesus – it starts with love.
God IS love - in the most complete, profound, and unconditional way.
But it doesn’t end there. . . Once we get to that point, once we start believing and accepting that God loves all of us equally – then guess what we need to do???
If God loves everyone –doesn’t that mean that we are called to love everyone also? Isn’t that the expectation – the command – the invitation – to love the people God loves??
And this is exactly where we usually fall flat on our faces. . . we come up with all kinds of excuses – for why we don’t REALLY have to love absolutely everyone – certainly not those who hurt us, who don’t like us, who want to take advantage of us, who have no interest in loving us in return . . .
Of course this is nothing new. We just heard the story about Jesus befriending the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.
The fact that Zaccaeus was a tax collector meant he worked for the Romans – and therefore would be despised by the average person in the street.
And when Jesus decided to dine with him – even the Jewish community was shocked and angered. How could he possible do that – is what most of them thought. . .
Well, because there never was, nor will there ever be – anyone who Jesus did not or will not love.
And God wants us to love the people God loves. God wants us to care about the people God cares about.
God wants us to show compassion to the people God shows compassion to – to forgive the ones God forgives.
Can we get on board with that? Can we truly love indiscriminately, unconditionally, and relentlessly? Or will we alway love in a qualified sort of way –one in which we love whom WE want, when WE want, and how WE want??
Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus, to a man others were unwilling to show kindness to – and Zacchaeus was never the same again.
And most likely those close to Zacchaeus – his family and tax collector friends – were never the same again.
And the people who simply heard what Jesus did were probably never the same again. Love can do that. It can have a ripple effect in ourselves and in the lives of those around us – and that little ripple has the power to change the world!
That’s the power of love – the power to transform absolutely everything.
So we need to stop trying to figure out who is “worthy” of our love – and just love. Because God loves all things that are / and loathes nothing which God has made. And we are called to be like God. And yes, maybe we never achieve perfection – but at least we try. Better to burn out trying – than to rust out by doing nothing!
Almost all of us, at some point, will be given bad news. Maybe some of you have already received it.
Not the loss of a job, or the failure of major test in school, or that a good friend is moving away. Although all of these can be bad news…
But I’m talking about the ultimate bad news – the day we are told by a doctor that we have an illness – that will certainly take our life.
That’s rough stuff - the kind of information we wish we did NOT have to hear. And there are all kinds of ways to react to this type of news: anger, sorrow, disappointment, resignation, even peace. We don’t all react to bad news in the same way.
I’ve heard enough people process things after they have received such news – to know most start looking at their past actions and attitudes - and they start assessing the type of person they have been over the course of their lives.
Surprisingly, things that seemed super important at the time – suddenly aren’t. And things (and especially people) we might have once neglected – suddenly ARE more important to us.
And for believers such as ourselves - one thing we are almost all hoping for at this trying time in our lives – is to be able to say with confidence: I have kept the faith.
When faced with the prospect of dying sooner, rather than later – most of us want to be able to think we have done a decent job – that we have, for the most part - lived a life that was pleasing to God – that we don’t have a long list of regrets, OR a long list of things we are ashamed of. We want God to look at us and see someone who has been a steadfast and sincere believer – to see a person who has kept the faith.
St. Paul clearly was facing this very sort of thing as he wrote to his disciple Timothy in his second letter to him.
Paul says matter-of-factly that his “departure is at hand.” He follows this statement with what he believes to be an honest assessment of his life - a kind of accounting of his spiritual journey. He tells Timothy:
“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
I hope all of us want to say those words – today, tomorrow, and at the end of our lives. But how can we know? On what can we base those words? What are the criteria? Is it just a wild guess? Or is there someway to tell?
I think it comes down to what we mean by keeping the faith.
For some it means publicly acknowledging certain belief statements - what we say in the creed and regarding other religious and moral matters.
Is saying the right things keeping the faith?
For others, it can mean fulfilling all the nuts and bolts of what the Church asks of us: attending Mass, supporting our parish, fasting and abstaining when the Church asks us to.
Is following the rules keeping the faith?
For some it may mean simply NOT outwardly denying belief in God or Jesus. Answering the often asked question - are you saved - with the words yes. I am a Catholic.
Is simply saying— we believe —when asked keeping the faith?
Although we want things very black and white - I think we know in our hearts that keeping the faith means a bit more. For one thing, faith is always connected to works - to the concrete ways we live out what we believe. So I think keeping the faith comes down to asking how much we have loved.
If we are NOT good, kind, loving, generous, compassionate and forgiving people – then what we say we believe —doesn’t really matter much.
And we all fall short of being those people God calls us to be – the kind of people we hope to be - and probably the people we really want to be.
All of this comes home to roost in the temple — with our two men and prayer.
In the story Jesus tells – he does not affirm the person who is convinced of his own goodness – the person who has probably said and done all the right things. . . The Pharisee.
Rather Jesus affirms the one who sincerely admits that he hasn’t always done right, the person who cries out to God with a sincere health, wanting and needing God’s mercy so that he can be a better person … The tax collector:
O God, be merciful to me a sinner
So what’s keeping the faith? Well, that’s always not so easy to say. But what it is NOT is much easier to say… It sure isn’t the person who says the right things – but bears no fruit.
May we always remember how much we need God. And may we be open to God’s great gift of mercy – allowing God’s love and forgiveness to transform us into the people we are called to be. That’s keeping the faith.
By the way, you may have noticed in our reading of St. Luke’s Gospel over the months – Luke is a get it done type of guy:
If there’s a man in a ditch - then stop and pull him out.
If your coin is lost - then search for it. If there’s a poor man on your door step – stop, take notice of him – and feed him!
If you want to see Jesus – then go out to see him - even if it means climbing a tree.
So I think his advice to us would be – quit worrying about he person you ought to be – make the changes – and be that person!
I may have shared this with you before – but my mother was seriously considering entering religious life as a sister – when her cousin set up a blind date with his friend - who then became my father.
Lucky for all of us my mother accepted the date.
My older brother met his wife when they were paired off in a wedding.
My older sister met her husband because they both worked in the same building. . .
It’s one of those questions I always ask couples when they come for marriage preparation: how did the two of you meet. . .
These days a lot of them will answer - we met on line. . .
My mother really was not that taken by my father on their first date – but my father was persistent in his pursuit. That’s a story I often hear from couples – that one or the other was not all that interested at first – but someone was persistent and eventually won the other over.
Sometimes good things just take time. . .
At some level, we know that already. If you’ve tried to learn how to play a musical instrument - you know that persistence is necessary - that’s why I don’t play the clarinet these days – because I wasn’t persistent in learning it.
And practicing an instrument cuts into one’s free time. But, it’s only by sticking with it that the breakthrough occurs - and one not only can play an instrument - but also become good at it.
Sometimes good things just take time.
Like learning a new sport. Adjusting to a new job. Beginning a new class. Or moving to a new school . . .
There are countless examples of things that have much better outcomes the more we stay with them, the more we try, the more we persevere, the more we don’t give up.
All three of our readings give us an example of this.
Our first, from the Book of Exodus - tells of Moses doing all he can to keep the staff of God raised as he watched the Israelites in battle.
He became tired. He was struggling to keep his arms up. Yet, with the help of Aaron and Hur – Moses kept at it - and so, the Israelites were victorious.
Now try not to attempt to figure out how this worked - that’s not really the point of the story. The point of the story is God can get people through any and all things – including going up against a much bigger and experienced army.
In St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy – we hear Paul encouraging Timothy in his faith – urging him:
“Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”
And in St. Luke’s Gospel - we hear Jesus’ story of the persistent widow – she had no one else to watch out for her – so she had to convince an unjust judge to render a just decision on her behalf.
The judges decision was based on the fact that she just kept “bothering” him – so you have to hand it to her –she never gave up - and good things happened.
Sometimes good things just take time.
Believing this: that persistence pays off, is much easier to embrace when it comes to the concrete things of everyday life.
We’re persistent - and we get the spouse.
We’re persistent - and we get the degree.
We’re persistent: and we learn the instrument, we win the game, we adjust to the new school.
Put another way, when it comes to certain things in life, we can see the fruits clearly - see the results of our persistence - and this can encourage us even more.
But faith – persistence in faith is a bit different – because we don’t see as God sees. We don’t understand as God does. We don’t always see the whole picture. . .
And we don’t always know exactly “what caused what” – don’t always understand exactly how our persistence in our spiritual lives has actually made a difference in our lives – and in those around us.
So we pray, anyway. We give, anyway. We trust, anyway. We forgive, anyway. We hope, anyway. . . And we love, in spite of anything – we love with a deep sense that all of these things are the RIGHT thing to do – the best thing we can do - sometimes the only thing we can do – IF we want to remain faithful. . .
And most importantly, we don’t give up – whether we can clearly see the fruits or not – whether we know precisely what God is up to, or not – whether things turn out the way we want to, or not.
Those things ultimately aren’t important – but staying faithful is. Staying on the right path, narrow though it be - is important. And staying in conversation with our loving God, no matter what - is important.
And you know what? The amazing thing is – when we are faithful – good things will happen. Because sometimes good things just take time.
My name is LARRY.
Everyone used to call me Larry the laborer - because that’s what I was - a hard worker.
And like many men in my day - I did not have a profession or consistent job - I was a day laborer.
So if you needed grapes picked in your vineyard - you could hire me.
A new barn built? You could hire me.
Most of us just showed up in the town square at the crack of dawn and took whatever work came our way.
But one morning - I got up - and my wife noticed some white patches on my skin.
After a few days, I developed some sores. They both progressed and continued to get worse – until I was condemned as a leper.
And that’s what it was a condemnation – a lifetime – cut off from family, friends, work. . . and everything I was used to in my life.
Leprosy was a common disease in my day - you now know that it springs from bad hygiene - but what did we know in my day?
Just that those who had it were thought to be highly contagious – and so we had to stay away from other people because of the fear that the disease would spread.
And so we lepers had to go off by ourselves to live – in order to support one another - as no one else was willing to take care of us.
Even worse than the physical disease – was the thinking that this all was caused by our spiritual failings – our sinfulness.
No wonder we had to call out as others approached us – UNCLEAN! - or had to tie bells on are garments so they would ring as a warning for others not to come near us.
Now not only was I shunned and avoided because I was a leper – but I had a double condemnation – I was also from Samaria – I was a Samaritan. . .
The Jews called us “half-breeds” because we worshiped in our own temple – not the big one in Jerusalem. They despised us and so they would always take a longer route – to and from Jerusalem –
by crossing the Jordan River rather than to travel through Samaria. . . they wanted no contact with us.
But, misery loves company – the lepers I hung out with did not care how I worshiped or where I cam from - we were just happy to have one another. . .
Larry the leper they now called me – lonely, isolated, feared, despised and basically forgotten. Sounds idyllic – right? Right – No one wanted to live as we had to do. . .
Then, one day – this man called Jesus came along - the one who the Jews thought was the Messiah they had longed awaited.
I knew he was different – he was a Jew actually traveling in Samaria!!
The Jews I was with called out to him: Master, have pity on us – so I joined in with their cries. . .
MASTER - they called him - a title that occurs only in the story St. Luke tells about Jesus – and then only used by his disciples. . .
Did these other nine truly believe in him??
I had nothing better to believe in – the hopeless will grab on to any hope – so I creed out, too: Master – have pity on me!
This Jesus told us to go show ourselves to the priests – for they were the ones who determined who had leprosy
and who was considered clean and pure. They controlled one’s condemnation or freedom. . . no wonder they became so powerful. . .
And as we walked – all of us noticed that, even before getting too far down the road – WE WERE CLEANSED! All our sores were gone. Our skin was no longer white – we were all free from this burdened of leprosy and the isolation that came with it all of us had carried for years!
The others took off – not to the priests – but back to their families and friends. . . they could not wait to be re-united with them.
But for me, there was only one place I wanted to go: back to thank my healer.
And when I found him, Jesus asked: were not all 10 made clean?
The other nine – where are they? No one returned – except this foreigner??
By calling me a foreigner – by recognizing that I was not “one of them” – this Jesus showed that the boundary between who might be saved: a leper or clean
A Samaritan or Jew – those boundaries had been breeched. . . the walls of separation had fallen.
My return, and Jesus’ words – allowed him to show that no one:
Not a leper.
Not a Samaritan or anyone else – slave or free, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, sinner or saint — No one is beyond God’s mercy and love. Anyone can experience God’s gift of salvation!
On the road to Jerusalem– on the road between Samaria and Galilee – there is only the kingdom of God – in which salvation is available to all who call out for mercy – and respond to God’s call with thankfulness and praise.
That’s my story: Larry the leper who is now Larry the liberated. But what’s your story?
How are you wounded – and in need of God’s mercy?
How are you lonely, isolated, feared, despised or forgotten?? Or who in your life is experiencing these things and needs to be set free?
What barriers do you throw up between yourself and others that need to be breeched by the love and compassion of God?
Who have you isolated from your life – from your family – from your community — from your Church — and need to invite Jesus into those situations to bring about wholeness and healing??
And then – how do you give thanks and keep an attitude of gratitude in your everyday life?
Start noticing the big and small ways that God breaks into your life with blessings – all the many ways God is trying to show love for you – but sometimes we are just to busy to notice – like my other nine friends who were healed. . . Begin to recognize those blessings – and give thanks to God. Now and always. AMEN!
Moments in time...